Royals sniper Phillips hopes to shoot down Hitmen again

Even Matthew Phillips admits his Calgary backstory is becoming overwhelming.

The native of that Alberta city will play the team he grew up cheering for, when the Calgary Hitmen hit the Island to take on the Victoria Royals in a Western Hockey League game, tonight at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

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There were more than 100 friends and family members in the Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 20 and Phillips rewarded them with a hat-trick in a 7-2 Royals road victory over the Hitmen.

Adding to the Cowtown storyline is the fact Phillips was selected last summer in the NHL draft by the Flames and became an instant media sensation in Calgary rookie camp because of the hometown angle combined with his diminutive five-foot-six, 141-pound stature and water-bug quick moves that drew comparisons to Johnny Gaudreau.

Phillips was the subject of a recent Flames video on their website, in which one of the revelations was that his dream is to skydive.

“It is unique . . . surreal in many ways,” said Phillips, of his Calgary connections.

“I used to go to all the Hitmen games and knew every player on the roster.”

Now he’s a hitman against the Hitmen.

Phillips is in a three-way tie with the second-most goals in the WHL with 37, just one off the pace of leader Jayden Halbgewachs from the Moose Jaw Warriors. Phillips’ 37 goals matches his total from last season when he was named WHL rookie of the year. He leads the Royals in scoring and is tied for 11th in the league with 64 points in 50 games.

Phillips recorded back-to-back hat-tricks on the recent Alberta swing and has overcome a low patch from earlier in the season when he admits he became “worn down.”

“[Phillips] was tiring, but he has finally got that jump back in his step,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry. “He is getting the proper rest and nutrition.”

Phillips pointed to the play of linemates Tyler Soy, who is on an eight-game points streak with seven goals and 10 assists in that stretch, and Russian import Vladimir Bobylev, as the main reason for his resurgence.

Meanwhile, despite fighting for its playoff life at 19-23-9 after a 4-3 overtime win over the Vancouver Giants in Langley on Friday, Calgary features two players prominent in recent league awards. Forward Matteo Gennaro was named WHL player of the month for January for his 20 goals and 29 points in 15 games. Offensive-thinking blue-liner Jake Bean was named WHL player of the week last week for his three goals and eight points in three games as the 2017 world junior silver-medallist for Canada showed why he was selected 13th overall in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Also a Calgary native, Bean is a player with whom Phillips is very familiar.

“Jake Bean is a very skilled player. If you give him time and space, he will burn you,” said Phillips.

The Royals are 29-19-4 and coming off a three-game sweep of the lowly Giants.

Tonight is Calgary’s lone appearance on Blanshard Street. Victoria has owned teams in the Eastern Conference and is 11-3 this season and 63-31-9 since the franchise moved to the Island in 2011-12, including 27-4-1 over the last 32 games.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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